MPs hear evidence on school absence of disabled children

2 mins read

Monday 22 May 2023

Tags: education, inquiry, absence, medical needs, education committee

MPs must address the disproportionate number of children with complex special educational needs (SEN) among severe-absence statistics, a parliamentary committee heard last week.

Speaking on behalf of the Special Education Consortium, of which Contact is a member, Dr Daniel Stavrou told MPs: “It feels misguided to approach this in a punitive way.”

The Education Committee listened to evidence from charity professionals as part of its inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils.

We submitted evidence to the inquiry earlier this year. In our submission, we identified the biggest factor contributing to absence among children with SEN as unmet need. Just under 40% of calls to our helpline come from parents who say the school or local authority is not providing the right support for their child. Many parents are resorting to home schooling their child as schools become less willing to make reasonable adjustments.

We also hear from parents that the school environment and culture is detrimental to their child’s needs. Schools are under pressure to strive for high attendance from both OFSTED and the Children’s Commissioner. Chasing attendance figures is coming at the cost of pupil wellbeing and good relationships with parents.

A culture shift is needed

To rectify this, we suggest a culture shift. The government must look beyond the quantitative figures collected by OFSTED and focus on how schools are supporting pupils with barriers to attendance. We would suggest seeking solutions by documenting good practice in schools achieving high rates of attendance for pupils with SEN.

Schools should also be building and fostering strong relationships with families. Parents should not be facing threats from schools for persistence absence, particularly where absence is authorised for medical reasons. Schools should look into bespoke options for supporting children with SEN, including flex-Schooling.

School attendance advice for families in England

We have advice about school attendance on our website, including information on what your rights are if your child is absent due to medical reasons.

If you are considering home educating your child, visit our Home Education webpage to understand what your duties and options are.